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Match Report: Middlesbrough 2 Cardiff City 1
Final Score: Middlesbrough 2 Cardiff City 1
UNDERNEATH the main West Stand at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday evening was a young man coming to terms with becoming an instant hit with the Middlesbrough supporters.
As Sammy Ameobi signed autographs and posed for photographs with young supporters he was reminded – if one was needed – of the quality of his first league goal of a career still very much in its infancy.
Less than an hour earlier the talented winger, making his first appearance since completing a loan move from Newcastle United, was walking off the pitch to a standing ovation after an impressive debut capped by a wonderful solo strike.
While Ameobi’s exciting attacking play on the right-hand side provided another dimension to Boro’s play, there was also a more established name making his own mark on the opposite flank.
Kieron Dyer is a man in no need of an introduction. But after a steady rather than spectacular start to his Middlesbrough career, he could have a crucial role to play in revitalising a stuttering promotion push.
The problems he has had with injury over the years are well known and it is extremely unlikely he will be able to figure in all of the remaining 11 games of the season.
But the more often manager Tony Mowbray can use Dyer and Ameobi in tandem down the flanks the better it is likely to be for Boro in the final eight weeks.
The unpredictability of the younger player caught everyone’s eye during the muchneeded 2-1 victory over Championship leaders Cardiff City, but the elder statesman showed flashes of the individual once capable of lighting up the Premier League and international stage.
Dyer rarely gave the ball away and embarked on a number of probing runs that were his forte during eight years at Newcastle. He also tapped in his first league goal since March 2007.
Mowbray knows what the 34-year-old in that sort of mood could do for Middlesbrough’s push for a play-off place, having dropped a point behind sixth-placed Brighton after a run of just two wins from ten matches.
“Kieron’s an intelligent lad and he has a really good football brain,” said Mowbray. “He has loads of experience, he’s played at the top, has finished second and third in the Premier League - we know what he can do.
“He’s great with the young lads too, he talks to them all the time. He’s not going to play every game for us, but he can contribute like he did here.”
Middlesbrough travel to Huddersfield tomorrow night and it will be hoped Mowbray took both of his wingers off with 16 minutes remaining against Cardiff with a second outing in four days in mind.
Dyer became the 19th and Ameobi the 20th different player to score for Boro in the Championship this season, which is the longest list in the division, and their approach play seems well suited to a formation with two up front.
When Scott McDonald broke and chipped to striker partner Ishmael Miller, Dyer’s charge into the six-yard box was well timed to convert Miller’s low cross into the area in the 13th minute.
Four minutes later McDonald’s diagonal run to the side of the penalty area opened the door for Ameobi to move centrally into the area to collect a return pass. Then Ameobi’s quick feet got him through Aron Gunnarsson and Craig Conway before he unleashed an unstoppable left-foot drive beyond goalkeeper David Marshall.
At that point Middlesbrough looked in control and, with the exception of a fine one-handed save by Jason Steele from Peter Whittingham’s half volley, could have been further ahead by halftime.
But after the break Cardiff showed more of the football which has got them on course for a top-flight return after a 51-year absence. And after Gunnarsson had headed Craig Bellamy’s corner beyond Steele with 23 minutes left, the Bluebirds pressed in search of the equaliser.
Middlesbrough, though, defended strongly to keep them out. Stephen McManus, rejuvenated in recent weeks following his recall, marshalled the defence well alongside Seb Hines in the absence of both Jonathan Woodgate and Andre Bikey.
Mowbray said: “We told them all week, they’d put five 6ft 3in players in the six-yard box. Ben Nugent and Heidar Helguson came on and it looked like land of the giants.
They piled the pressure on, we conceded the goal. But character saw us through.”
Fraizer Campbell wasted a free header and Steele dived to his left to palm a Helguson header behind, while Middlesbrough could have pinched a third in the five minutes of added time when both Marvin Emnes and Emmanuel Ledesma broke towards an empty net with Marshall stranded in the Boro half.
Mowbray said: “We got there in the end, albeit with farcical scenes. No goalkeeper in their goal and we still couldn’t score, it was quite amazing. But the bottom line is we’re talking about three points.
“We’ve now got to go to Huddersfield on Tuesday and get three points.
“This squad is such a conscientious group, they’re still arguing with each other in there, moaning and grumbling about certain things, but that’s a good sign, that their standards are really high. It’s been a tough run.”